Let's face it: Training for a marathon or half-marathon can get monotonous. Both programs involve lots of sustained running at or around goal race pace. This is a part of the deal, of course, and an important component for developing fitness, dialing in pacing, practicing fueling, and more. That said, it gets repetitive, if not boring, and a lot of people tend to lock in to a set pace and then zone out until it's time to stop. Racing, however, requires you to pay attention, listen to your body, and make adjustments on the fly, which is why I love to assign the In-n-Out Tempo Run from time to time. Not to mention, it's much more interesting than its more classically constructed cousin!
Fartlek, in its purest form, is unstructured speed work. "Speed play" is its literal translation. Now, I'm as guilty as anyone else who has ever called any structured interval workout done off the track a "fartlek" session, but if we're being honest that's not a fartlek: it's just an interval workout. A fartlek is simply a series of faster pickups with a recovery interval in between. It's also an interval workout, but the length and speed of the pickups, as well as the recovery intervals in between, are not pre-planned and totally up to you.
We're in the midst of marathon season which means the long run takes on an extra level of importance if you're training to race 26.2 miles. The 3 x 3 Cutdown is one of my favorite go-to long runs to help develop the specific fitness and skills necessary to succeed on race day. Here are the details:
Variety, it’s said, is the spice of life. It can also be the key to spicing up some of the same old workouts you do week in and week out. Can't decide between hill repeats, a tempo run, or an interval session? Try rolling them all into one workout! I call this cover-all-your-bases butt-kicker “The Mixed Bag” and it will help to stimulate fitness gains that you didn’t even realize were stuck in stagnation.
The 10K Overdistance Interval Session is a 10K-specific workout that totals about 6-7.5 miles worth of quality work when all is said and done. It's a race-specific interval sessions will help fine-tune your fitness and boost that all-important element of confidence in the final 4-6 weeks leading up to your goal event.
While half marathons and marathons are a matter of resisting fatigue during the later miles, 5K and 10K racing is like fighting off a firestorm for the final third of the race. No matter how comfortable the early pace may feel to you, about two thirds of the way into a fast 5K or 10K a spark suddenly catches fire and starts to spread rapidly as your legs begin to lock up and your stride shortens ever so slightly. Your quads are screaming at you to stop and your upper body tenses up as you seemingly start going backward while you struggle to maintain pace or stick with the runner in front of you. There’s nothing wrong with any of this at the end of a hard race, of course; it simply means that you’re doing it right. While your muscles are inevitably going to catch fire toward the end of a competitive 5K or 10K effort, you can train your body to slow down the burn and better handle the demands of the race in training. One of my favorite ways to do this is with the descending ladder workout.
Hills and Twos is a staple early season session for a number of top high school, collegiate, and professional programs that combines a set of short, hard hill repeats with a set of short, fast intervals. I’ve been doing some version of this workout since college, the Bowerman Track Club has their own take on it, and a couple of Georgetown runners even named their podcast after it.
This workout is all about that base. It’s a relatively straightforward session that combines a set of short (30-60”) hill repeats with a moderate dose of steady state running (think marathon-ish effort). It’s perfect for athletes early in a training block when they’re building volume and reintroducing intensity without getting too specific just yet. It’s not meant to be that hard. There are a number of ways you can manipulate this workout but I like to start with the hill repeats because the athlete is fresh and we can get more out of this element of it in terms of muscle fiber recruitment, improving power, and running with good form. The steady state afterward is purely aerobic—not too hard, but not that easy—and shouldn’t take that much out of you energetically or otherwise.
Hill workouts should be an essential part of any runner’s training repertoire. They provide a lot of benefits for a relatively steep price: speed, strength, fitness, focus, challenge, and confidence all wrapped into a tidy package of uphill repeats.
I came up with this workout for my Wednesday night track crew as a fun way to get in a high volume of quality work while also practicing how to be disciplined, stay focused, and go through a wide range of gears. This session works best in a group environment because it has a competitive element to it—you’re “eliminated” when you run slower than your previous interval; whoever can tally up the most reps “wins” the workout—but it can also be done alone.